Being the Ongoing Chronicle of the Anticks, Misadventures, and Odd Deeds of an Overalls-clad Wanderer.

Sunday, February 29, 2004

Alas, not by me.

Stealing a headline from Terry Teachout (in which he quotes passages from elsewhere that he laments that he did not write himself -- example here), I find a pretty well-crafted expression of disdain for the American Religious Right written by Yar of Yar's Revenge. Generally, I am unable to write such things about this segment of American society: either I look on them mainly with bemusement, in which case I'm more likely to toss off a simple one-liner, or if they manage to arouse me to great anger, I simply sputter and spout and fume and generally test the boundaries of incoherence. Anyway, here's Yar, and excuse the profanity -- like I said, I didn't write it:

"The religious right is fucking stoked about this [the Marriage Amendment], needless to say, because outlawing non-procreative sex in all its various and sundry forms and permutations guarantees them a ticket to Heaven, where the ghosts of aborted fetuses will bring them Mai Tais and crabcakes while they sit on cotton-candy cloud cushions and look down into the gaping maw of Hell, where the sight of abortionists, libertines, and sodomites being tortured by Satan will entertain them until the Day of Judgment, when God collapses into a singularity and shakes clean the cosmic Etch-a-Sketch upon which our lives are awkwardly, angularly drawn."

Somehow, this scans even better if I imagine it being spoken by Richard Schiff as Toby Ziegler on The West Wing. There's a guy who, when his script sends his character into a rant, always manages to find the exact right word to harshly emphasize for effect.

More Notable Dispatches, dispatch'd

I've added a couple more selection to the "Notable Dispatches" part of the sidebar, most importantly my four posts from last December 11, celebrating the 200th birthday of Hector Berlioz, and my brief summation of the novels of Guy Gavriel Kay. Newer readers who might want to know something about my particular passions will find those a suitable starting point.

You may call me, "Sensei"....

Also via I Love Everything (I check in their once a week or so for a nice, stiff shot of coolness and/or weirdness) I find this guide to Japanese suffixes like "-san", "-chan", "sensei", and "ramalamadingdong".

(Well, not that last one. Still, it's a nifty page, well worth exploring for anyone with a burgeoning interest in Japanese and Asian stuff.)

So where can I get MY picture taken with Jane Fonda?

Apparently the Guardian recently asked readers to submit their own photoshopped pics based on the 2004 elections in the US, after the whole "Kerry and Fonda" thing went down. The winners are here, and this is my favorite:



(via I Love Everything)

The Filthy Monkey, It Plans

Warren Ellis is back on the air, after a brief outage caused by some kind of server or hosting service hiccup. This is good, because the Net has been too normal the last few days.

You know you don't get to take the money with you when you die, right?

In today's Buffalo News I find this article about people who really watch every penny. Some of these tales just scare me. Now, I've not always been all that smart with money -- in fact, at too many times I've been downright stupid with it, although I am starting to come around to see the utility of things like coupons, and it sure would be nice to be able to save, if that were even possible at the current levels of income, but hey, ya takes what ya's can get, right?

But then I read stuff like the practices people admit to following in order to save a nickel here or a dime there, and I'm thinking, "Why on Earth would you ever think this is important, much less the fact of what would make you do that in the first place?"

Here's one testimonial from the article: "I reuse coffee grounds. When I make our morning coffee (six cups), I use six tablespoons of fresh coffee. The next morning I use three tablespoons of fresh coffee and put it on top of the 'used' grounds from the morning before. I don't think you can tell the difference; my husband says he can."

Now, come on! Can coffee be that big an expense that the savings here ever add up to any level of utility? Especially if you're using something like the big can of Maxwell House, which costs about five bucks and lasts a month or more at that rate? (God help me, if they're buying something expensive like Lavazza coffee and doing this....)

And how about this: "Then there are the people (we heard about two) who buy a roll of two-ply toilet paper and then separate it into two rolls of one-ply." Maybe this works, maybe it doesn't. I'm not going to try and find out.

I hate to break this to you, but men suck.

I suppose I should be nauseated by this, but frankly, the level of ignorance – just taking grammar and spelling as starting points – is so amazingly high I can't begin to take it seriously. (Didja know that if women had never been given the vote and allowed to enter politics, the US budget would never ever have gone seriously into deficit? Didja know that? Huh? Didja?) And even funnier is the fact that this blogger is apparently technologically proficient enough to equip his blog with some kind of e-mail notification thing for updates, but has absolutely no idea of how to use a simple hit counter.

My only hope is that this guy isn't attending college via a scholarship that could have been used by someone able to speak and write English.

(via Patriot Boy, in turn via Atrios. All this is, of course, moot if it turns out that it's a big joke, which I have to admit is a strong possibility.)

Blame Sean, apparently.

Thanks to Sean for his props on my hitting two years of blogging a couple weeks back.

And, if you're ever deeply offended by Steven Den Beste, it turns out that it's all Sean's fault! (Fine with me, actually – I've never been more than mildly offended by SDB.)

Friday, February 27, 2004

Hey, a watch! (Watchmaker implied, of course.)

If you're curious as to the state of Creationist activity in your state, check out this PZ Myers post, complete with map detailing Creationist fun-and-games by state. Yeesh.

One thing I've wondered is how many homeschooled children in the United States are taught about evolution? In other words, to what extent is homeschooling an attempt to keep the kids away from Darwin? (I know, I know, there are hundreds of other reasons why one might want to homeschool. But I have to think this would be up there in the rankings of such reasons. No, I have no evidence whatsoever for my thinking so, however, which is why I'm asking the question.)

The show's ending! New careers and new lives for EVERYBODY! Yippee!!

I see that as Friends winds down into its last handful of episodes (only four or five left, with the balance of the season being taken up by reruns of classic episodes), the writers are doing that tried-and-true thing in ending long-running comedy shows of giving each character a pretty major life change, as if to say to the faithful viewers (like me -- I admit it, this is one of my favorite shows of all time), "You won't be seeing these characters anymore, but the characters won't see each other, either! Ha!"

This, in my mind, is what made the finale to Cheers so good: they didn't do this. They flirted with the idea, having Sam come close to running off with Diane, but in the end they just ended it with one more quiet night in the bar. It's easy to imagine that, with the obvious exception of Frasier Crane, those folks are still gathering every night in that basement bar in Boston.

Sunrise, Sunset....

Here's a pretty cool picture of a sunset:



What's so cool about it? This particular sunset is being observed on Mars.

Sidebar Stuff

I've tweaked the sidebar just a little bit: first, I've begun rotating the "Notable Dispatches", adding a couple of new ones and ditching a couple of older selections. Secondly, I've reconsidered my earlier rejection of a reader suggestion and created a section of the sidebar listing all of my selected "Move Over Britney!" women. (Two of those have separate picture links because of original link-rot.)

Friday Burst of Weirdness

Obsessive-compulsive types who are mortified by the idea of having a bit of ash daubed onto one's forehead on Ash Wednesday had probably best avoid visiting Galaxidi, Greece at the beginning of Lent.

This is why:

"If you happen to be in Galaxidi on Clean Monday (beginning of Lent), you'll get caught up in the revels of the masqueraders who throw flour at each other in festivities with heavy Dionysiac overtones."

And yes, it is as messy as it sounds.

(By the way, Kevin Drum has announced the end of "Friday Cat Blogging", thus leaving the "Friday Burst of Weirdness" here as Blogistan's grandest Friday tradition. At least, for my fifty or so regular readers. Cheers!)

Thursday, February 26, 2004

IMAGE OF THE WEEK





Electron microscope image of a grain of Kosher salt.

After reading this MeFi post about salt, I got to thinking about how salt is the one major area of cooking in which I've never much listened to the experts. I still use table salt exclusively, despite the insistence by chefs that other varieties -- sea salt or kosher salt, for example -- are better both in terms of flavor but in terms of usability, depending on odd grain shapes that allow for better pinching of the salt and for better adhesion to the food. Ah well, maybe someday I'll come around.

Anyhow, this image makes clear just how convoluted a surface a kosher salt grain has. I found it fascinating.

Well done, Scotty!

There is one trick I've always employed in my various jobs, or at least tried to, that I'm not ashamed to report that I learned from Star Trek. It was well illustrated in the episode of The Next Generation when Scotty, the engineer from the Original Series, somehow gets preserved in time to the 24th century. He's bugging Geordi LaForge, the current Enterprise engineer, and Geordi finally says something like, "Mr. Scott, I'm sorry, but I have to get this job done for Captain Picard. I told him it would take an hour."

Scotty's eyes light up: "How long would it really take?"

Georgi looks at him like he's just sprouted a second head and replies, "About an hour."

And Scotty's look of joy turns to one of horror. "Oh, Laddie, you didn't tell him how long it would really take, did you? How do you expect to maintain your reputation as a miracle worker by telling people how long it will take to do things?"

See, Scotty's long-lived trick is to figure out how long a given task will take, and then multiply it by four. That way, when his superiors think they'll be waiting two hours for results, along comes Scotty in thirty minutes with the goods.

That's what I've been shamelessly doing at the store, and it's working like a charm.

Manager: "So, I need all these lights changed to higher-wattage bulbs and the spotlights redirected. I'm guessing that should take....oh, how long?"

Me, shrugging: "An hour or so, maybe....I should be able to get it done after lunch."

Manager: "Great!"

Cut to a short while later:

Manager: "So, you're going to go to lunch and then do that stuff with those lights?"

Me, nonchalantly: "Oh, that. Yeah, they're already done. I got some other stuff done, and that opened up some time, and you know how it is."

And I saunter on, looking for my next crisis. All in a day's work for us Supermarket Cleanup Guys.

Thanks, Tom!

TBogg has linked my post from yesterday about The Passion of the Christ, thus steering a lot of traffic in this direction. Thanks to him!

But his last sentence ("Besides, if I want to go get a Butterfinger, I don't want to be tripping over them as they writhe in the aisles") has me thinking about what The Passion would be like in a movie theater. For example, I'm that kind of filmgoer who is totally incapable of not eating popcorn at the movies, no matter what the film is. I had popcorn during Schindler's List, and I would probably have it during The Passion.

But now that I consider all this, I have to say that it's probably a good thing that Gibson's film isn't being distributed by any major studio, since I can only imagine what the "Collector's Beverage Cups" would look like.

Here's a meme worth spreading....

John Scalzi proposes that a new term be employed for that subset of "Christians" whose religious focus is on strict adherence to some of the rules of conduct described in the Book of Leviticus: Leviticans.

You know that feeling when you're both jazzed by an idea and annoyed that you didn't think of it yourself?

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Passions....

I have a strong feeling that I'll be waiting for the DVD of The Passion of the Christ. Not that I'm not interested in the film, because I am, but I'm really not interested in taking it in as part of the religious spectacle the whole thing has become. I've just seen a news report about some guy who spent his entire savings, more than $42,000, buying up 6,000 tickets to the film. This is a kind of mindset that is so alien to me it might as well be coming from the natives of Rigel VII, and in any case, spiritual matters -- to the extent that I think much of them at all these days -- are really rather private to me. I really would rather not see this film in the company of people who, I suspect, are -- at least in large part -- the kinds of folks who aren't comfortable being Christians unless you know that they're Christians, and better ones than you. I just want to see the thing as a movie, and I doubt that's going to be possible anywhere other than my living room once it shows up at BlockBuster. (I wonder how many copies each store will have to stock to make good on that "Guaranteed In Stock" policy of theirs.)

Anyway, Roger Ebert gave the film four stars, saying this:

"What Gibson has provided for me, for the first time in my life, is a visceral idea of what the Passion consisted of. That his film is superficial in terms of the surrounding message -- that we get only a few passing references to the teachings of Jesus -- is, I suppose, not the point. This is not a sermon or a homily, but a visualization of the central event in the Christian religion. Take it or leave it....[several grafs later]....It is a film about an idea. An idea that it is necessary to fully comprehend the Passion if Christianity is to make any sense. Gibson has communicated his idea with a singleminded urgency. Many will disagree. Some will agree, but be horrified by the graphic treatment. I myself am no longer religious in the sense that a long-ago altar boy thought he should be, but I can respond to the power of belief whether I agree or not, and when I find it in a film, I must respect it."

And Jeff Simon, film critic for The Buffalo News, gives the movie one star, saying this:

"The Passion of the Christ is as sadistic a film as I have ever sat through. (It couldn't possibly be less appropriate for children, by the way.) Even if you know and completely endorse Gibson's point - that Christians and non-Christians must know how very much torture and horror Jesus endured in his final hours for their sakes - you might still think his Passion is a kind of cinematic atrocity: i.e. a movie grotesquely unable to credit its audience with any imagination or decency whatsoever. In fact, the movie is like an accusation of unworthiness flung at the audience in rage and contempt....[several grafs later]....We're not talking here about one of Quentin Tarantino's vaguely mad living cartoons here; we're talking about a director who worships and loves his subject and wants every drop of that subject's blood on the audience's hands."

I find it interesting that here we have two completely different reactions from critics who aren't especially religious (at least, nothing in Simon's writing has ever led me to believe that he is particularly religious) differ so wildly. There is lots of talk in the country about how this film will affect the faithful, but not quite so much about how it will be seen by those outside the tradition. Roger Ebert looks at The Passion and sees a powerful statement of personal faith; Jeff Simon looks at it and sees the cinematic equivalent of a hair shirt.

Interesting times, these.

(And in one of those wonderful postscripts that life seems to dole out so often these days, I just had that godawful TV show Access Hollywood playing in the background -- because I was too lazy to get up and change channels after then 10:00 news -- and bless my soul if they didn't announce a feature later on the show about the animatronic crucified Jesus that was built by the film's special effects crew, with one of the effects people pointing out "We even had a breathing apparatus in the chest!" while the lower half of the screen bears the superimposed logo, "Robo Jesus!" It's nice to know that keeping our eye on the ball apparently isn't always a necessity, isn't it?)

Congratulations, Mr. Bush.

I didn't comment on this yesterday when the topic was all ablaze, but I'll do so now: by calling for a Constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, President Bush has made clear the country he wants America to be, or at the very least, he has stood up to be counted with the people who want such a country.

While I haven't posted much about it, I believe I've long made clear my deep skepticism about Bush's conduct of the War on Terror. But right now, I'm not sure that's even relevant, because the fact is this: Safe and secure or no, I do not want to live in George W. Bush's America.

(But who the hell told Karl Rove that dividing his own party in an election year was a good idea?)

A week and some change? You call THAT a stint of unemployment? HA!

Darth Swank has a new job, just eight days or so after leaving the last one. Well, let's see him try that little stunt in the employment black hole of Western New York!

Oh, well, congrats to him. Maybe he'll celebrate by watching some violent Asian movies and posting to his blog a little more! (And he's already done that first one.)



The Ten Rules

Via Teresa Nielsen Hayden I see Elmore Leonard's Ten Rules for Writers, which are a pretty interesting lot. I agree with most of them, although I'm not sure it's such a bad thing to open with the weather. But then, I'm from Buffalo, and we're a meteorologically-obsessed bunch.

I particularly agree with the bits about dialogue attribution. I try to never use anything more than "said", a lesson which took me years to learn after my sixth grade English teacher pontificated that "Said is dead". And so help me, if there's one word that should never ever ever be used as dialogue attribution, it is "ejaculated". I'm sorry, but to me, that word has but one use, and a character saying something ain't it.

Pizza's on the RIAA!!

In the mail today I received my check for that class-action lawsuit against the recording companies for years of price-gouging on CDs. The grand total?

$13.86.

All those times I inadvisably took my college meal or rent money and bought CDs, all those trips all over town on the release dates of filmscore albums, all the mileage over the years resulting in a CD collection numbering over 600 discs....fourteen bucks seems fair, I guess.

I have to admit, though, I was never really one to bitch about the price of CDs, although I'm very surprised that faced with the new competition of digital distribution, the RIAA's approach is to militantly protect its high price points as opposed to trying to price their own products more competitively. All that aside, though, I never figured sixteen bucks was a ridiculous amount for a full-price CD -- I mean, that's roughly two-and-a-half times the cost of a movie admission, and if I play a CD six times in the years I own it, well, those six hours of entertainment come in cheaper than going to the movies.

But then I look at things like the Naxos label, and I consider the fact that I can often buy a DVD of a film for less than the filmscore CD of the same film, and then I start getting a little annoyed. But still, only a little.

It's the day after yesterday! I've traveled into the future!

No, folks, there were no posts yesterday. Between getting four hours of sleep on both of the preceding two nights, and the settling in of a mild cold yesterday, I just had no energy to devote to blogging.

It's been a fairly uneventful couple of days at the store, as well, so I don't even have anything nifty or icky to report from there -- except that I got to watch the trash compactor mangle one of those cafeteria-style tables with folding legs, which we tossed in there because it had several large cracks in its top. That was pretty cool.

(I'm starting to wonder if maybe I wasn't meant for writing but for demolitions.)

Monday, February 23, 2004

What follows are links to posts about specific books written in the first year of Byzantium's Shores, listed alphabetically by author. A similar index for the second year will appear in a later post, although that one will be shorter not because I read less but because I shifted away from my original concept for this blog as an online reading-diary.

I am omitting very short posts of the "Read this, hated it" variety, and I am also leaving out books covered in "omnibus" posts where I write about a given book for no more than a single paragraph. And I have not posted about every book I've read here, so this does not constitute a complete list of all of my reading since the blog began!

FICTION

Alexander, Lloyd. Westmark

Anderson, Kevin J. Hidden Empire: The Saga of Seven Suns, book one

Bellairs, John. The Face in the Frost.

Blessing, Lee. A Walk In the Woods (play)

Brin, David. Sundiver.

Carver, Jeffrey. Eternity's End

Chabon, Michael. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

Clarke, Arthur C. 3001: The Final Odyssey

Collins, Max Allan. Road to Perdition (also review of the film)

Czerneda, Julie. A Thousand Words for Stranger

Doyle, Debra and MacDonald, James. The Price of the Stars

Ellis, Warren and Cassaday, John. Planetary

Flynn, Michael. Firestar

Follett, Ken. Jackdaws

Gaiman, Neil. American Gods

Gaiman, Neil. Coraline.

Haldeman, Joe. The Forever War

Jackson, Shirley. The Haunting of Hill House

King, Stephen. Hearts in Atlantis

Koontz, Dean. Watchers

Lee, Sharon and Miller, Steve. Local Custom

Long, Jeff. The Descent

Monteleone, Thomas. The Blood of the Lamb

Moore, Alan and Gibbons, Dave. Watchmen.

Paul, Barbara. Kill Fee

Penman, Sharon Kay. The Queen's Man.

Shaara, Jeff. Rise to Rebellion

Steinbeck, John. The Grapes of Wrath.

Zahn, Timothy. Conqueror's Heritage

NON-FICTION

Basbanes, Nicholas. Patience and Fortitude: A Roving Chronicle of Book People, Book Places, and Book Culture.

Briggs, Raymond. Ethel and Ernest

Carter, Jimmy. Christmas in Plains.

Dubal, David. Evenings With Horowitz

Johnson, Haynes. The Best of Times: America in the Clinton Years

Klein, Joe. The Natural: The Misunderstood Presidency of Bill Clinton

Lee, Stan. Excelsior!

Lerner, Alan Jay. The Street Where I Live

Moore, Michael. Stupid White Men.

Morgan, Joe. Long Balls, No Strikes

Morrell, David. Lessons From a Lifetime of Writing

Rees, Martin. Our Cosmic Habitat

Shatner, William. Get a Life!

Spiegelman, Art. Maus: A Survivor's Tale

Thomas, Helen. Front Row at the White House: My Life and Times

Winick, Judd. Pedro and Me: Friendship, Loss, and What I Learned

"Hail to the Chief" has lyrics?

Yes, apparently the tune played for the entry of the President of the United States has lyrics -- and it originally comes from an English stage play based on Sir Walter Scott's poem The Lady of the Lake? The things you learn these days!

I gleaned this factoid from a neat little book called Songs Sung Red, White and Blue: The Stories Behind America's Best-Loved Patriotic Songs by Ace Collins. It's a pretty interesting volume to dip into, for the background behind such songs as "This Land Is Your Land", "God Bless America", "The Star-Spangled Banner", and the like.

I'm paid to drill holes in stuff.

Today at the store, a situation arose which required me to put my carpentry skills to use. Problem is, my carpentry skills are such that Habitat For Humanity would very likely say "Thanks, but no thanks" were I to ever volunteer for them. The boss described the problem and told me how to best fix it (basically, a piece of clear acrylic is supposed to fit into a wooden frame, but keeps popping out because the frame itself isn't entirely stable). I pointed out my lack of carpentry skills, and the fact that this would likely result in a fairly messy job being done, but the boss replied, "It's not a chair for the Pope, you know."

Alrighty then.

Two drill-holes and a bit of split wood from hammering in a nail halfway later, the mission was accomplished.

Oh well.

Two questions? That's it?

Lynn Sislo provides yet more questioning food-for-thought. Somehow, she always poses questions that are interesting. Today's are:

If you could have as a pet, any creature from science fiction what would you choose?

Well, I could annoy any David Weber fans amonst my readership by choosing one of those telepathic cat things from the Honor Harrington books. (I've only read two of those novels, but I have it on good authority that the kitties get really annoying later on.) I don't really recall too many pets from the SF I've explored, so maybe I'd just go with a "sehlat", an indigenous species of the planet Vulcan. These were never shown, but when Dr. McCoy beamed with delight at Spock's mother Amanda's description of a sehlat as a Vulcan teddy bear, Spock pointed out that on Vulcan, the teddy bears are alive and have six-inch fangs.

Sticking with Star Trek, one beastie I would not want as a pet is a Ceti eel, those nasty things from The Wrath of Khan that burrow into the skull through the human ear, even though Khan told his victims (Capt. Terrell and Commander Chekov) to "think of them as pets".

If you could own any device from science fiction what would you choose?

I assume that by "device", we're talking about something one can hold -- not a ship or vehicle, in other words. Assuming that weapons are an option, the obvious choice is a lightsaber. No doubt about it. If we're ruling out weapons, then one of the tricorders from Star Trek would be pretty neat, since they can apparently scan for nearly anything. Or, quite frankly, I'd love to have that little marble of Obi Wan's in Attack of the Clones that fills a room with a holographic, three-dimensional star map.

Sunday, February 22, 2004

Feeds and stuff....

A heads-up for bloggers everywhere: If you use BlogMatrix for your RSS feed, you'll need to find something else. Apparently BlogMatrix has gone belly-up.

"Sungmanitutonka ob waci"

I was looking on my shelves for a movie to watch the other night, and on the bottom shelf I found a movie I hadn't watched in at least five years, this despite the fact that this same movie completely floored me when I saw it in its initial release. The movie was Dances With Wolves, and it's been so long that my pan-and-scan VHS copy of it is now showing the telltale signs of decay -- bad tracking in spots, sound that muffles in places, et cetera. After watching it almost anew, having forgotten a large number of the smaller plot details, the film has shot to very near the top of my "Get the DVD" list (along with that two-disc Casablanca set and The Adventures of Robin Hood).

When you get a discussion of the Oscars going with people who see a lot of movies, one of the most common examples of a year in which the wrong film was purportedly given Best Picture is 1991. That was the year that first-time director Kevin Costner's Dances With Wolves took the big prize over Martin Scorcese's GoodFellas, in an eerie repeat of ten years earlier when first-time director Robert Redford's Ordinary People beat out Martin Scorcese's Raging Bull. (Now there is an example of the Academy getting it staggeringly wrong. Does anybody watch, or read, Ordinary People any more?) I can sort-of see the complaint: I remember GoodFellas being a very good film. Although I haven't seen it in at least ten years, I remember it being pretty absorbing, and I'm one who has very little interest in stories about the Mafia or organized crime. I have yet to see any of the Godfather movies all the way through, for example.

I know that Dances With Wolves has fallen pretty seriously out of favor, much like Titanic and Forrest Gump have, but so help me, to this day I think it's still a better movie than GoodFellas. (Keeping in mind, of course, my constant belief that there is no such thing, really, as "best".) This does pose an interesting question: should I rank a film that engages me despite my complete lack of interest in its genre higher than a film that engages me much more, but in a genre to which I'm more sympathetic? I'll leave that for another time -- for now, suffice it to say that while I admired GoodFellas, I really don't have much desire to ever see it again.

So, about Dances With Wolves. There is a lot to praise in the film on a technical basis, of course. The cinematography is amazing: I don't recall any movie, except this one, ever making me think, "Damn, I gotta go see South Dakota one of these days!" (If you get off I-90, there are some very beautiful spots in South Dakota. It's not all flatlands punctuated by billboards for Wall Drug.) John Barry's score is just gorgeous. (An expanded edition of the CD is apparently in the works.) The build-up to the buffalo hunt is still a great sequence, accelerating the tempo until we're in the midst of a full-fledged stampede.

The film is, to my way of thinking, a clinic on pacing: even in the four-hour director's cut, I was never conscious of the passage of time. And while I wasn't moved to tears quite so often this time as I was when I first saw the movie (when I started blubbering when Cisco, the horse, was shot and never really stopped), I did still weep at the end when, as Dances With Wolves and Stands With A Fist are leaving the camp, Wind In His Hair goes to a high clifftop and shouts his hard-won friendship with Dances With Wolves for all to hear.

What impressed me most about the film this time was the fact that none of the characters are wasted; the film is full of small moments of character development and many of the minor players who only appear in a handful of scenes have arcs of their own -- a young Sioux named Smiles A Lot, for instance, comes of age over the course of the film, although it's easy to miss: the first time we see him, he is too young to be taken with war parties, but at the film's end he accompanies his first war party to rescue Dances With Wolves from the American soldiers. And even those soldiers' commanding officer is shown to be somewhat honorable, and after he is killed in the fight at the river, Dances With Wolves stops Wind In His Hair from scalping him.

The film's director's cut plays down the "noble savage" aspects of the story (which I never found all that overt in the first place). People who have only seen the theatrical version will remember a shot in which the tribe comes upon a field littered with skinned buffalo carcasses, and wagon-wheel tracks leading away from the scene; but in the director's cut, after that scene the tribe sends a band of warriors out to kill those white hunters, and Lt. Dunbar, appalled at the joy with which the tribe celebrates these deaths, refuses to sleep amongst them. And much later, Dances With Wolves -- John Dunbar, no more -- feels the same desire to kill some whites who have intruded upon the tribe's sacred grounds. This change is depicted, but left unremarked.

I also found a certain subtext to the film of how much might have been different if one thing, along the way, had been different. What if the Union General hadn't been there to see John Dunbar's suicide attempt? What if the commanding officer of Fort Hayes had not been insane? Perhaps, then, he would not have allowed Fort Sedgwick to go unsupplied for so long, and thus perhaps Captain Cargill and his men would still have been there when Dunbar arrived. What if Stands With A Fist's husband had not been killed? Would Dunbar have become so deeply entwined with the tribe had there not been the added factor of his falling in love with her? What if that honorable officer at the end -- the one whose body Dances With Wolves insists be allowed to lay unmolested -- had recognized Dances With Wolves as the Army officer who had passed him in the hall at Fort Hayes a year before? I admire the way a lot of the story developments in Dances With Wolves hinge upon circumstances of which the characters are often completely unaware, in the way that our lives are often affected or even shaped by the actions of people we never meet and whose existence we never know.

Is Dances With Wolves sentimental? Yes, probably, but I never found it too thick -- in fact, it is understated, in many places -- and in any case, I rather enjoy sentiment now and then. I like raw emotion in my stories.

(The title of this post is, of course, the name "Dances With Wolves" in Lakota. I found it here. Some linguistic speculation can be found in this PDF document.)

Ohhhhh, man, that's the stuff....

I've been buying ground coffee lately for use on mornings when I have to get up early and go to work, since I don't much feel like dragging down the grinder and messing around with whole beans while I'm getting ready and since the grinder is freakishly noisy anyway -- it would awaken the other members of the domicile. Thus, I've relegated grinding the beans fresh, myself, to the weekends. And my God, does coffee brewed from freshly ground beans taste so much better than the preground stuff! I always knew this to be true, but it's one of those little things that you continually rediscover, like the fact that meat cooked outside always tastes better. We always praise acts of discovery, but no one much talks about rediscovery, do they?

Anybody else have any truths they continually rediscover?

Ralph, how can we miss you if you won't GO AWAY!

Citing the same Michael Tomasky article I quoted yesterday, Digby of Hullabaloo offers a suggestion of a prominent Democrat ideally positioned to take out Ralph Nader at the kneecaps: Howard Dean. If Dean could do this, it would possibly be an even greater service to Democratic politics than he's already provided.

Oops....forgot to carry the two.

One of the great cautionary tales from science is Albert Einstein's "Cosmological Constant", which was basically a constant that Einstein shoehorned into his theory of relativity (I can never remember which one, General or Special Relativity). In really simplified terms, Einstein didn't like the implications of his theory for the evolution of the universe, so he stuck in a number he called the "Cosmological Constant", in order to make the theory fit the way he wanted the universe to behave. (My understanding is that the Constant was intended to balance the implications of his theory that the Universe would either be expanding or contracting, with the empirical evidence of Einstein's day that the Universe was static, or "steady state", as it was described then.)

Einstein later regarded the Cosmological Constant as a colossal blunder that impeded the natural beauty of his theory, but it now turns out that he may have been right all along. A team using the Hubble Space Telescope to examine distant supernovae for gravitational effects, and what they observe now appears to confirm the existence of dark energy.

"I do not like green eggs and lembas, Sam-I-Am!"

Here's something by Will Duquette that I've been meaning to link for several weeks, but I keep forgetting about it: "The Old Man in the Hat Comes Back", a Dr. Seuss parody of Lord of the Rings that Will is working on. If he manages to see this thing all the way through to the Gray Havens, it will surely be one of the great feats of blogging.

Hmmmmm....I wonder if any grocery stores in Butte or Bozeman are hiring....

There's something kind of nifty about the idea of living in a place where gubernatorial candidates do this kind of thing on the day they announce their candidacy.

But then, Ted Kaczinski probably had the same thought when he was looking for a place to set up shack, so....

(via DPS)

Testing something....

This post is a test to see how the "Change Time and Date" feature on Blogger works. Move along, please. (Or use it as an open comment thread.)

Saturday, February 21, 2004

Awwwww, does this mean I gotta move to Charlotte?!

According to this quiz, I am 60% Dixie. Weird, because the longest period of time I have ever spent south of the line formed by, say, Missouri's northern border is one week, and that was on three different trips to Florida I've had in my lifetime.

Instead of just hotels, can I build luxury casino resorts?

Libertarian Jackass (who is sporting a spiffy new template design, although he should restore the permalinks) points out this Fark collection of altered Chance and Community Chest cards from Monopoly. Some are pretty obvious, but others are downright clever.

Ralph, PLEASE go away.

Via Matthew Yglesias I see this Michael Tomasky article about Ralph Nader, the current Big-Ass Lunatic of American politics. Here's Tomasky's prescription for how Democrats should deal with Nader:

So here's a thought for an enterprising Democratic candidate: Attack Nader right now, and with lupine ferocity. Say he's a madman for thinking of running again. Blast him especially hard on foreign policy, saying that if it were up to the Greens, America would give no aid to Israel and it would cease to exist, and if it were up to the Greens, America would not have even defended itself against a barbarous attack by going into Afghanistan. Have at him, and hard, from the right. Then nail him from the left on certain social issues, on abortion rights and other things that he's often pooh-poohed and dismissed as irrelevant. Cause an uproar. Be dramatic. Don't balance it with praise about what he's done for consumers. To the contrary, talk about how much he's damaging consumers today by not caring who's in charge of the Food and Drug Administration or the Federal Communications Commission.

Right on.

Friday Saturday Burst of Weirdness

For some reason, I didn't see much outright weirdness this week in the course of my normal surfing about, so I resorted to an old trick guaranteed to turn up wonderful oddities: Just do a Google search using two search terms only, one of which is to be "Cthulhu". This time, I paired Cthulhu with "Peeps", as in those horrible marshmallow things that are apparently intended for human consumption.

This search yielded, as a primary hit, this page of Peeps-related cartoons, of which this one is related to Mr. Lovecraft's creation.

Well, which one is it?

Yar sold a story to a magazine, but he doesn't tell which one is his! "Foul," cries I.

He's also searching for direction as a blogger -- it seems that he finally read one more Town Hall column than he could handle, and his synapses put down their tools and staged a mass walk-out. Personally, I'm amazed that it took as long for his brain to revolt as it did, but anytime Town Hall's number of regular readers drops by one, it's a good thing.

Permission to revise and extend my remarks?

In an addendum to my "Geez, aren't I the boring blogger!" post from Thursday, I should note that one factor of the job that has me tired over and above the fact that I'm even employed again in the first place is that the store has me coming in at 5:00 in the morning twice a week to work on a special cleaning project. I haven't had to get up at 4:00 on a regular basis in nearly five years (while managing the morning shift at a family restaurant), and even then, it was a struggle getting up that early each and every day, five days a week (to say nothing of the current two days a week on a temporary cleaning assignment).

What's the cleaning task? Well, the side of the store where the produce, bakery, deli, meat and seafood departments are located is designed as a large open space with somewhat softer lighting (albeit, still quite bright). The perimeters of this area have these faux-ceiling grates that provide the illusion of a ceiling and a nice visual counterpoint to the dominant earth-tones of the store's main color scheme. It's hard to describe, really -- but the actual store ceiling is the typical "warehouse" type of thing you'll see in larger stores these days, with steel beams and giant heating-ductwork and large spotlights all clearly visible. But then there is this faux-ceiling setup, which consists of a grid of one-inch piping from which small spotlights are suspended, and the spaces of which are adorned by the afore-mentioned grates. It's actually very appealing, visually, but it also poses the problem that all that grillwork overhead is a gigantic dust magnet. And we haven't even come 'round to the grillwork above the bakery, where the combination of dust and flour coating all this metal grates is....well, I'm sure you can imagine.

Enter the intrepid blogger, new on the job, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and willing to do anything disgusting with a smile (albeit occasionally a fake one -- I've been around enough to know what they're about to ask me to do something really icky). The managers approached me to ask if I'd be willing to come in super-early a few times a week to help clean all that detailed grillwork, and I, of course, acquiesced to their request. Because I'm just a team player, you know.

(Now, to be fair, they were pretty up front about what they were asking. They didn't try to butter me up with a lot of babble about "helping the team" and all that other Godawful manager-speak, which I found really refreshing. This was a case of, "Hey, we've got this rather annoying, highly labor-intensive, and not-really-gross-but-still-icky cleaning job that will require some very early mornings. Can you help us out?" I found this really refreshing.)

So, that's probably a big problem with my mental functioning as to blogging lately: I can't get into a routine yet because the job itself hasn't settled into routine. Luckily, this cleaning job should only require three or four more weeks. Until then, I shall probably move my "No blogging at all" day to Fridays instead of Saturdays. Or maybe not. Hell, I don't know. I'm just amazed right now that I'm back in a situation in which sleeping until 7:30 am constitutes sleeping in.

(By the way, any list of "Biggest lies of all time" has to include telling people that they'll adjust to getting up at three or four in the morning, if the job requires it on a regular basis. I did it five days a week for a year and a half, and it never got any easier. Maybe that means I've just got unshiftable circadian rhythms.)

Thursday, February 19, 2004

IMAGE OF THE WEEK





Artist's rendering of a star whose stellar matter is being ripped away by a black hole, as reported discovered in the linked story.

Look under "Death, fates worse than".

A word of caution to fans of the New England Stupid Patriots: Beware, lest you become like that special brand of evil, Yankee fans!

Hey, didja hear the one about....ummm....a guy and a....hmmm....maybe a priest?

Well, looking things over a bit here, it seems obvious that this blog was a lot more interesting when I was unemployed. I've either run stone out of things to say, or my ability to say them has taken a serious hit. Anyway, traffic is down by quite a bit, and twice now in the last week I have had less than 100 hits in a single non-holiday weekday, for the first time in a long while -- probably back to whenever I took my last hiatus. Anyway, for those of you still checking in regularly, thanks, and I'm sure that my brain will recalibrate to the awesome pressures of sweeping out Aisle Nine and "rounding up the usual trashcans".

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

A listener, a listener, my kingdom for a listener!

The problem with being new on the job is that it takes quite a while to get to know one's coworkers enough to know who will appreciate what joke. Today, there was a customer in the store who was the absolute spitting image of Wallace Shawn. I mean, I took one look at him, and I thought Vezzini from The Princess Bride had walked in. I wanted so dearly to point him out to someone and say, "Inconceivable!", but I had no idea of who might actually get it.

So my joke went unsaid. Sigh.

Looks like that national price cut on maple syrup won't be happening after all....

It's always nice when someone else says what I think, and more succinctly than I would have said it. Kevin Drum's take on Howard Dean's exit from the Democratic Presidential race:

Thanks, Howard. You weren't my candidate, but I sure appreciate everything you did. If we win in November, a big part of the victory will be thanks to you.

I'm actually even more enthusiastic about Dean's stated intention to form some kind of "grass roots" political organization (link via Morat). This is something I've long maintained the Democrats really need to start doing. To use a baseball metaphor, the Democrats tend to remind me of the Baltimore Orioles: constantly trying to load up with lots of guys who can swing for the fences, but paying next to no attention to the farm system. Republicans have outperformed the Democrats for years at finding good, smart people to run for local office and thus start the ball rolling uphill. I'd like to think that rather than just blast through like a winter wind, Dean actually managed to deposit a few seeds.

(That last sentence stinks, but I'm leaving it up anyway because it's rather impressive in its stinkiness, no?)

"God, it's nothing but sixteenth-notes!"

So said I, the first time my piano teacher ever had me look at a piece by Bach. Lynn Sislo is amazed that someone blows Bach off.

The problem that Bach presents to the contemporary ear is twofold. First, listeners today generally are not able to process counterpoint to the degree to which Bach uses it. We're not talking about just the two-part inventions here; Bach wrote very long fugues for many voices, and contrapuntal listening is about the most demanding kind of music listening there is. We are much more typically expected to follow a single melody and its various harmonies, but that's about it. When even symphonic development like you might find in a Beethoven symphony is demanding to us, it's no surprise that a full-scale Bach fugue is extremely hard to dig into.

Second, there is the idea of emotion in music. I obviously can't speak for most listeners, but in my experience many people are more equipped to discuss a musical work's emotional fabric, in terms of contrasts and beauty and whatnot, even to the extent of saying things like "This piece makes me think of a stream in the woods" or some such thing. This kind of thing is just not to be found in Bach. It's not what Bach was about. Music-as-feeling was alien to him; music-as-devotion was Bach's stock in trade. Or, put another way, music as ritual. The idea of expressing himself through his music likely did not even occur to Bach, unless it was to express his own deep religious faith.

Listening to Bach requires almost an entirely different mindset than, say, listening to Schumann or Ravel. (And in all honesty, it's a mindset that I've never really spent much time developing. There's something about Bach that I'm not sure I can ever really get, no matter how much I might enjoy the Brandenburg Concertos and how amazing I find the unaccompanied cello suites.)

BTW, for anyone wondering about how to approach Bach, I highly recommend the chapter Leonard Bernstein devotes to him in his wonderful book The Joy of Music. I'm pretty sure the book is out of print right now, but any library that doesn't stink should have it.

Whoa, it's like the world's biggest corn popper!

Today I had the supreme pleasure of putting about eight large shopping carts' worth of potato chips, whose shelf lives had expired, into the big-ass trash compactor at the store. And then I hit the "Compact" button.

I gotta tell you, folks, if you haven't heard the wonderful sound of several hundred foil potato chip bags bursting under the pressure of a trash compactor, well, you're just letting the best stuff in life pass you by!

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

More blood! More thorns! More nails! More, more, more!

It seems that Mel Gibson's new film The Passion tells the Crucifixion story in very gory terms:

:: Roman guards employ a "cat-o'-nine-tails" that rips the flesh from Jesus' back.

:: As Jesus is being crucified, a supervisor scolds one man for not nailing his hands properly. He yanks Jesus' other hand, pulling the arm out of the socket.

:: To see whether Jesus is dead, a Roman soldier pierces his side with a lance. Blood showers down on the soldier.

Reading this, I was reminded of this passage from Stephen King's On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, in which King relates a few real-life experiences of his that he later brought to bear when writing his breakthrough novel Carrie:

:: One day her [Sondra, a neighborhood girl and later "model" for Carrie] mother hired me to move some furniture. Dominating the trailer's living room was a nearly life-sized crucified Jesus, eyes turned up, mouth turned down, blood dribbling from beneath the crown of thorns on his head. He was naked except for a rag twisted around his hips and loins. Above this bit of breechclout were the hollowed belly and the jutting ribs of a concentration-camp inmate. It occurred to me that Sondra had grown up beneath the agonal gaze of the dying god, and doign so had undoubtedly played a part in making her what she was when I knew her: a timid and homely outcast who went scuttling through the halls of Lisbon High like a frightened mouse.

"That's Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior," Sondra's mother said, following my gaze. "Have you been saved, Steve?"

I hastened to tell her that I was saved as saved could be, although I didn't think you could ever be good enough to have that version of Jesus intervene on your behalf. The pain had driven him out of his mind. You could see it in his face. If that guy came back, he probably wouldn't be in a saving mood.

What? No Ramen noodles?!

Via MeFi (back on the air at last!), I see this list of items a well-stocked pantry should include, which is part of a larger site of kitchen-related advice and information. We actually have a lot of this stuff on hand, which is pretty cool -- although it raises the question of why I eat the same thing (pasta with red sauce, garlic bread) four nights a week. Hmmmm.

Making the world safer, one bomb at a time.

When I read articles about the current state of Afghanistan, like this one or this one or this one -- all articles that make clear that much of Afghanistan is a hellish mess, that the Taliban is by no means a distant memory, that the lives of women there are not that much better -- it makes me wonder how anyone can maintain that our current Administration is doing anything remotely resembling a bang-up job in fighting the War on Terror.

Personally, I'd like to use a measuring stick that doesn't indicate success in terms of "Stuff Blown Up" (and I am in no way a person who believes that this war can be won without blowing anything up).

(Links via Jeanne d'Arc and Nathan Newman.)

What will our alien overlords make of call centers?

I crossed swords in a very mild way with Doc Nebula a while back, but as I noted then, there's something oddly compelling about the guy -- half of his writings repel me, but the other half are interesting in the good way. Case in point, his recent descriptions of the work environment in a big call center. Call centers are horrid, vile places to have to work -- and he provides some gory detail as to why. I worked in a very small call center that was owned and operated by the company whose product we were actually selling -- not the kind of shop Doc Nebula's working in -- and still, I well remember a lot of this goofy crap, right down to the bit about "Two minutes are provided between calls for administrative duties you may have -- but we'd sure like it if you didn't use them." (No permalinks for current posts, but there are permalinks for archived posts; so just check out his main page and see if he's written anything about work. I tend to skip over the stuff about "HeroClix", because I have no idea at all what that is.)

(Oh, and I don't know if I have any readers in Florida, or if I have any readers in Florida who are looking to own a dog, but apparently Doc Nebula really needs to find a new home for the dog of the house. Just in case.)

Monday, February 16, 2004

A novel done....not mine, alas....

John Scalzi finished his book the other day. Mine is still plodding along -- I rather unwisely went a week without committing a single word, but in that time I've also started to believe that I may have made an error in the plotline two chapters back. Now I am teetering on the fence between sticking in a patch and then writing over the problem, or just junking the material since then and redoing it all.

Sigh.

Move Over Britney!

A new installment of Women Who Make Britney Look Like The Queen From Snow White After She Has Cast Her "Ugly Disguise" Spell, Sherry Stringfield of ER.



This ought to make Yar happy -- he once expressed some hope that Ms. Stringfield would show up as a MOB! selection. (And there is a serious paucity of good pictures of her on the Net! The page I link uses just about the most horrible image Ms. Stringfield possibly has ever given on its intro page. Weird. And the one that I really wanted to use only seems to be available as a thumbnail. Strange.)

Leitmotifs in Film Music

If you follow any discussions of film music on the Net for long, sooner or later you'll see the word leitmotif, and unless you're already familiar with the term from music history, you probably wonder what it means. That's natural, because even within the film music fandom community, the leitmotif idea tends be misunderstood.

Stripped to its most basic terms, a leitmotif is a melody, or a melodic figure, that in a film score is associated with a character or object or idea or whatever. A perfect example is the Imperial March from The Empire Strikes Back, which is almost uniformly associated with Darth Vader. Thus, a leitmotif score is simply a film score that makes extensive use of leitmotifs.

Why do composers use leitmotifs? Because they lend unity and coherence and richness to scores. A skilled composer can use his motifs to play off one another, musically, as characters do; and the recurrence of themes and motifs as a score progresses enhances the audience's familiarity with a film and its characters. Not all film composers use the leitmotif tachnique; Jerry Goldsmith, for example, tends to employ a "theme and variations" approach in which a single theme or small group of themes wends its way through an entire score, along with atmospheric music that reflects Goldsmith's main classical influences, Ravel and Stravinsky.

More than that, a skilled composer who puts thought into the creation of his motifs will create them in such a way that the motifs themselves are interrelated in a proper way. Thus, for example, virtually all of the major themes in the Star Wars films that are associated with "the good guys" begin with wide intervals: the main theme (Luke's theme) opens with a fifth; Leia's theme and the Love theme from TESB open with a major sixth; the "Brother and Sister" theme from Return of the Jedi begins with a perfect fourth; the Love Theme from Attack of the Clones with a minor sixth. (Of course, John Williams historically seems to love the fifth, which is also the basis of his Superman and ET themes.)

Less obvious are some other interrelations of the Star Wars themes. The Imperial March (Vader's theme) and Yoda's Theme don't seem all that similar, but both follow the same rough melodic shape in their opening phrase (hum them both and you'll hear it), and the AOTC love theme is a minor-key variation of the Star Wars Main theme. The two major themes that don't fit into any particular mold are Ben's Theme (or the "Force Theme"), and the Emperor's Theme. These are pretty iconic, and are nearly always heard in pretty close to their original form. And there are loads of smaller themes that are not heard nearly as often – Jabba's Theme, Lando's Theme (only heard in TESB), and others.

How does Williams employ all these themes? This brings me, actually, to why I refer above to the common misunderstanding of the leitmotif technique. Most people assume that leitmotifs exist to basically "mirror" whatever or whomever happens to be onscreen; thus, when Luke Skywalker does something heroic, we should hear Luke's Theme; when Darth Vader is being evil, we should hear his theme, and so on. It doesn't really work this way, though: leitmotifs aren't just musical tags to be sounded at any point when that motif's referent is acting. This is what I call the "Easy View of Leitmotifs", the idea that they are the musical equivalent of nametags at a convention, or perhaps those little tags on thumbtacks beside each specimen in the dead butterfly exhibit at the Museum of Natural History.

This is false. Leitmotifs are musical ideas, first and foremost; in fact, the great "inventor" of leitmotif, Richard Wagner, referred to them as "melodic moments of feeling". A skilled film composer will use leitmotifs to create a tapestry of emotional music, as opposed to a grab-bag of disparate themes that happen to "mickey mouse" the action onscreen. Thus, a common complaint filmscore fans make of leitmotif-based scores – that the motif is played when its associated character is nowhere on screen – is often misplaced. A recent thread on a message board, for example, criticizes the end of John Williams's Attack of the Clones score for playing the Imperial March (Vader's Theme) when the clone armies are shown in regiment, since Darth Vader doesn't even exist yet. But the March isn't strictly associated with Vader, but also with the Empire itself, and what Williams is musically conveying is that this moment is the true birth of the Empire, even though Palpatine has not yet declared himself Emperor and Anakin is still a Jedi.

Problems can arise with the leitmotif technique. Comparing the use of motifs in the Star Wars scores with the Lord of the Rings scores, I find that the latter are more unified in their conception than the former. This really isn't the fault of John Williams, though – he didn't have the luxury, as Howard Shore did, of knowing the entire story from the outset. He didn't know how important Darth Vader would become to the story, for instance, which is why there is no trace of the Imperial March in A New Hope (although he does base the Imperial motif from that film on the same interval – the minor third – from which he derives the "Rebel Spaceship Fanfare", a prominent motif throughout the original trilogy). Thus Shore was able to do a lot more "pre-planning" of his motifs, whereas Williams often finds himself "retrofitting" new motifs to fall into place alongside the old ones. Of course, he's Williams, so he does so brilliantly. But it's still a challenge and doesn't quite always work perfectly.

How important is all this to the enjoyment of a filmscore composed in this way? Well, what matters most of all in a filmscore is how it enhances, or illuminates, the emotional fabric of a film. But if you're after a deeper understanding of a score, it helps to consider how the motifs and themes are related and why they are constructed the way they are.

An Icelandic Beauty

Apparently Bara has received some complaints about her tendency toward self-portraiture on her LiveJournal.

Speaking solely for myself, I think she should do more self-portraiture. I mean, how could I think anything else? Especially since I first discovered her through her self-portraiture?

Anyway....

Anakin turns into WHO, now?!

TF.N has performed the helpful task, for those of us who claim we'd like to remain "spoiler-free" but have less backbone than that, of gathering every factoid about Episode III that has been officially leaked by Lucasfilm people.

My favorites are that Palpatine apparently has a really cool line that many people will want to use as their E-mail signature, and that Darth Vader does not use any of the buttons on his chestplate. I always wondered what those buttons did -- I mean, they're probably part of his life-support apparatus, but it doesn't seem to me he'd want the buttons controlling the device that keeps him alive in such a prominent place, right? I imagine a scene in the duel with Luke in The Empire Strikes Back, in which Vader is basically beating the crap out of Luke, but then Luke says, "Oh, yeah?" and reaches forward and clicks one of those buttons. And then Vader stands there flailing because he can't breathe....nah, that can't be it. Maybe they activate the self-polishing mechanism of his helmet? I mean, it was always so shiny -- is there no dust in the Star Wars universe?

Sunday, February 15, 2004

Another Blogiversary

Somehow it escaped my notice that Tom Burka had his one-year blogiversary the other day. Congrats to him!

Bugginess Abounds....

My comments seem to be acting up, and Metafilter's been down all weekend. Looks like I picked the wrong day to stop poppin' pills....

So, a little Gilbert & Sullivan and you think you're ready for Wagner?!

In today's Buffalo News, classical music critic Mary Kunz has a nice article in which she basically cheers for opera. (In fact, "Cheers for Opera" is the headline.) Lots of good advice here, basically boiling down to, "Just go!"

Actually go see an opera, because as wonderful as recordings are, they just don't capture it all -- nor, really, do videos or DVDs, although I haven't seen one in that way in a while, so maybe they've figured out how to better catch the action. I have seen terribly few operas in my life -- less than five, actually -- and I'd love to see more. (If a performance of Les Troyens ever took place in Buffalo, I might just be moved to kill for tickets.) Just keep in mind that you're watching and hearing the performance of a story. Nothing more, and nothing less.

"...in her tomb by the sounding sea."

Warren Ellis, who is spending an entire week doing nothing but linking music, directs attention to a haunting setting of Edgar Allan Poe's poem "Annabel Lee" (which happens to be a long favorite of mine -- see link in the sidebar).

When I was a music major, I often thought of setting this poem to music myself.

Voluntary Ignorance

This Popular Science editorial makes the point that the current level of scientific illiteracy isn't just pernicious, but in large part willful. In other words, we have chosen to relegate scientific knowledge to the status of stuff you might be quizzed about on Jeopardy! This strikes me as a pretty questionable attitude for a society whose continued wealth depends on science.

A key quote: "What's upsetting in these examples is not so much the positions taken by reasonable people on ethical and scientific issues as the fact that debates seem shaped by political operatives who bypass reason and instead leverage ignorance the way dot-com-era Wall Street leveraged phantom assets."

It's short, so read the whole thing.

(via Paul Riddell)


Youch!

James Capozzola cut his finger while attempting the slicing of an egg roll.

He doesn't say, but I suspect his problem might have arisen from a knife that became too dull. Folks, please: keep your kitchen cutlery sharp, especially if you cook at all frequently. Most accidents from knives result because the blades are too dull to cut cleanly, thus requiring the user to apply more downward pressure to the handle, in turn creating potential for those sudden slips of the blade that lead to bleeding digits. If your knife is properly sharp, you should not have to apply any downward pressure to the handle while cutting: gravity will do the job as you move the blade laterally. If your knifes are dull, get them sharpened. You will find that cutting requires less effort, and your risk of cuts will be greatly reduced. This is true of all knives, even serated bread knives.

And as long as I'm talking about knives, here's another tip. Suppose you're cutting up vegetables or meat and you need to transfer them from the cutting board to the soup pot or the wok or the frying pan or whatever. Many people will pick up the cutting board and then use the knife blade to push the veggies into the waiting pot.

Don't do this. Please oh please. This will hasten the dulling of the blade (assuming that you're using good quality knives, as opposed to crappy stainless steel ones).

What you should do in this case is either put the knife aside and use your hand to slide the items from the cutting board to the pot, or, if you must use the knife, invert it. Use the back edge of the blade, the non-sharpened surface, to push the veggies.

Aside from pots and pans, knives are the most important tools in a kitchen in which any cooking beyond heating canned soups is being done. Treat them with care and use them correctly, and there's no need to ever spill your own blood upon the counter and thus be forced into a phase of light blogging!

Endangered Relics

In the latest installment of ancient relics threatened by modern life and general unconcern, we have Peru's Nazca lines -- the gigantic pictograms the Incas "drew" in the Peruvian desert by clearing dark rocks to reveal white soil beneath, and which have largely remained static due to the region's arid conditions.

(via Thousand Yard Glare)

The Proliferating Questionaire

Nefarious Neddie answers the Ten Questions I answered on Friday. I would comment on the incongruity displayed by his claiming to not have sufficient writing time while simultaneously demonstrating his knowledge of obscure TV shows, but that just wouldn't be seemly, now, would it?

Heh heh heh.

Remembrance of Things Past, but with less French....

About two years and a month ago, I was lazily doing some Net surfing and engaged in one of my common Net timekillers: doing Google searches for former high school and college classmates. On this particular occasion, I decided to check what was up with a former fellow Philosophy major from the college days, whom I knew had gone into ministry. Thus I found Sean Meade's blog, the discovery of which made me think, "What on Earth is a 'blog'?" I quickly surmised that it was some kind of online diary or journal or something. Seemed like a nifty idea.

And then a week or two later, an article appeared in TIME Magazine, the gist of which was "Hey, there's these really cool things now called 'blogs'! And you can get one for free! Here's how you do it!"

I mulled this over for another week or two, thinking that this would be pretty cool indeed. At the time I was still quite active on Usenet, although I was getting really tired of basically staying "on topic" and thus repeating the same things I'd said over-and-over again. The idea of a "blog" was really appealing, since I'd occasionally considered setting up a personal site where I'd put up essays and such on a sporadic basis, but never come 'round to actually doing so. But the confluence of finding Sean's blog and that article about blogging in TIME basically clinched it.

So I signed up with Blogger and BlogSpot, created my first blog, decided I didn't like the title, scrapped it, and launched a different one. I needed a title, though, and I was having trouble coming up with one. I didn't want to have something like "Jaquandor's Rants", since I don't rant all that often; I wanted something mildly poetic that would basically convey the fact that I would write about anything that interests me (and a lot of stuff interests me). But I had trouble with the title: When writing fiction, I rarely start with a title. Instead, I write for a while until the story's title "comes" to me, but obviously this approach wouldn't work for a new blog that would go unread by, well, millions. I wanted something with at least a little cachet, and This Blog To Be Titled Later had about as much cachet as a shopping mall food court Chinese eatery. (Now, there is Chinese food that leaves me hungry an hour later, if only because it's so bland I can never finish it.)

About that moment, my eye fell upon my copy of Stephen Lawhead's novel Byzantium (which I really need to go back and re-read, since I never finished it the first time, and not because I didn't like it). And this was just after I'd finished reading Guy Gavriel Kay's The Sarantine Mosaic, with its depiction of a fictional Byzantium: a cosmopolitan place wherein all of the world's traditions and cultures met, sometimes for good and sometimes for ill. So I had half the title (Byzantium by itself seemed incomplete), and then I thought of sea shores -- again, places where differing worlds come together, and places where some journeys begin and others end. "Eureka!" shouted I, disturbing the cat. "Byzantium's Shores! The very pinnacle of human coolness on Earth!" [Some details in this account have been embellished.]

So I had a title, I chose my template, and I just charged right in and started blathering -- two years ago, this very day. I didn't do a lot of lurking about Blogistan before I started posting, so I didn't have any idea, really, of the "lay of the land". I didn't know who Glenn Reynolds was; Atrios and Kevin Drum and TBogg and many others hadn't even started yet. The first liberal blogger I found was Demosthenes, after he was linked by Steven Den Beste, who has been on my blogroll since almost the very beginning -- along with Sean.

Back then, I had a strict "No Politics" policy that I've gradually abandoned, realizing that I don't need such a policy since non-stop writing about politics really isn't my style anyway. I'd rather groove on stuff, with occasional descents into sheer geekery or pithy political comment. I like to think I've struck a decent balance: my obvious leftism doesn't seem to have directly pissed off any of my known right-leaning readers into leaving, which is really as it should be. I was also pretty staunch about remaining pseudonymous in the beginning, but that was born, really, of my first forays into the Net back in the early 90s -- when everybody had a "handle", and nobody much cared who anybody else was. I've loosened that up quite a bit; my writings on Green Man Review are in my real name, for example.

So where do I go from here? I just soldier on, I guess -- writing about things that interest me as I cast my nets out and see what I manage to dredge up from the depths. Two years and counting: not a bad way to have spent a lot of time since 15 February 2002 (incidentally, I now recall, the birthday of my second college room-mate -- I don't know why I thought of that just now). Lots of books read, music heard, movies seen, football games watched. In that span, my family has moved twice, and I have held two jobs, spent a great chunk of that time unemployed and looking in vain for freelance work, finished one novel and got halfway through the next, written a handful of short stories, and published one op-ed piece in The Buffalo News. And, best of all, I've encountered a lot of fine, fine people whose interests and writings continue to affect my own.

Thanks, then, to everyone who has ever linked this space and read it on a continual basis. What a trip it's been -- kind of long, and more than a little strange. Hmmmm....now what does that remind me of? Ah well, I'll figure it out later.

On to Year Three.

Friday, February 13, 2004

Digital Music, revisited (a repost)

(I first wrote the following article back in September, but I wanted to bring it up again today after Sean's post today that copyright and DRM, as we know them, are dead. Well, of course they are; but in all these discussions -- focusing on music -- we keep focusing on how these changes will affect the consumers, and to a lesser extent how they will affect the artists. We don't see nearly as much consideration of how these changes will affect the music. The post also links an old article from 2Blowhards; be sure to read that.)

---

There is a long post about digital stuff - - music, movies, assorted whatnot - - over on 2 Blowhards that's really worth reading. I want to single out two particular grafs (but the whole post, really, is pretty interesting):

* Aside from copyright concerns, the big worry people have expressed about the effect of programs such as Itunes is that they destroy "the album" as a creation. Now that the program itself is all about the individual songs, who's going to go to the trouble of listening to a carefuly constructed album?

Exactly right. One big argument in favor of digital music, and against the RIAA's pricing, is the "Sixteen bucks for two songs" argument, as in: "Don't you get mad when you pay sixteen bucks for a CD with twelve songs on it, when you only want two of them?"

Well, no, not really. I've never understood this argument. Yes, I used to buy rock or pop albums on the basis of the one or two songs I'd heard on the radio or on MTV, but then, I always understood the idea of the single as a marketing item for the album. And quite often, I found that often the best songs on an album are not the ones released as singles, and more importantly, a well-produced album is a delight in itself, in the sequencing of the songs, the interplay of their subject matter, et cetera.

Any classic rock radio station will play Pink Floyd's "Another Brick In the Wall, Part II" fairly often. And it is a great song, most assuredly. But it's even greater when you hear it in the context of the album of which it is a part. Digital distribution is going to kill that aspect of music, and that's a damn shame. Chalk it up as a further reduction of our cultural attention span.

Back to the Blowhard:

* But as I played with Itunes, one other worry occurred to me: it seems inevitable that Itunes (etc) will be the end of the song-that-grows-on-you. Why? Because you'll never give a song that doesn't instantly grab you a second (let alone a tenth) chance. I'm not the world's most impatient listener, yet with Itunes I find myself not just skipping the in-between-the-hits songs; I don't even transfer them to the hard drive in the first place. I also find that there's a strong temptation to listen to songs for just a few seconds at a time. Click -- and you get that rush that the first bars of a song you like deliver. And then it's Click again. Pretty soon you're like a rat who's developed a taste for speed; you're going from place to place, looking for another up. When you don't find it, you're outta there, and outta there fast.

Again, exactly right. This will encourage our fetish for instant gratification. I'm reminded of a bit of dialogue in the movie Mr. Holland's Opus, in which Mr. Holland (Richard Dreyfuss) describes his youthful initial encounter with the music of John Coltrane. I don't recall the exact wording, but it goes like this: "I listened to this record, and I hated it. I mean, I really hated it. I hated it so much that I took it home and listened to it every day, trying to understand why I could hate it so much. And then I realized that I loved it."

This isn't uncommon. I've had this experience many times, and not just with music (although you could take the same bit of dialogue, substitute the name "Hector Berlioz" for John Coltrane, and you'd have my exact story with regard to who is now my favorite classical composer). I suspect that we won't take time to get to know an artist, to allow his or her work to slowly cast its spell upon us. It'll be "Gimme magic now, or I'm on to the next person." That's not good.

What I fear (or, not so much "fear" as "suspect") is that this soon-to-be idyllic heaven, when there are millions of songs out there for pennies each, is going to have serious repercussions for not just the way we buy music, but for how the music itself will impact our lives. We should think about that.

Friday Burst of Weirdness

I'm not sure I recall just how I found this, but here's what is, in my opinion, the weirdest entry in this gallery of weird comic book covers.

The surest sign of a desperate blogger....

....is filling out a questionaire. On Friday, to boot. This one is from Lynn Sislo.

1. What is your favorite word? I suppose it would depend on the mood, right? I like "Golden" and "Mists". I enjoy the sound of "Mellifluous". I don't know, really -- I tend to like combinations of words more than specific words.

2. What is your least favorite word? Copacetic. I can't stand this word, especially when three or four years ago, all of a sudden, everybody was using it for some strange reason. (Like Lynn, I'm not enamored of "blog" either, but I've long since conceded that one.)

3. What turns you on (inspires you)? Good food; a story well told; a fine musical phrase; a city skyline at night; mountains; trees; ships -- both sea and spacefaring. A lot of things inspire me, I guess.

4. What turns you off? Management-speak. You people with jobs know what I'm talking about.

5. What sound do you love? All of them, really. Sounds are cool.

6. What sound do you hate? Anything over the PA system at Wal-Mart.

7. What is your favorite curse word? Well, I'm not proud of this, but the big M.F., probably. Although I've trained myself to not so much say it as mouth it forcefully. Also, in keeping with my admiration for all things Red Foreman, I'm very fond of "dumb ass".

8.What profession other than yours would you like to attempt? Hmmmmm. Don't know, really. Writing isn't my profession yet, but I'm already attempting it; and thus far I'm perfectly happy sweeping the floor at the grocery store. I could say that I wouldn't mind being a professor of something, but I've seen the crap that goes on in academia; likewise, I admire chefs like Emeril Lagasse and all those other folks, but the idea of working seventy to ninety hour weeks, putting in at least six days, doesn't appeal to me one whit. I guess I'd love to get paid for reading, but that's not really a profession.

9. What profession would you not like to participate in? There are many, actually. Law. Actual telemarketing, of the "Call people at home at dinnertime" variety. Air traffic control.

10. Presupposing that Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? "Hey there, I've been waiting for you. Pull up a chair so we can watch The Phantom Menace on my home theater system." Then he'd lean forward, wink, and whisper, "And boy, do all those wankers who continually bash George Lucas have a surprise in store when they kick the bucket. Heh heh heh!" And then he'd take me to meet Hector Berlioz; and he'd let me watch Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Gregory Hines, et al in rehearsal; and....well, I don't know. I generally don't think much about Heaven. I just think it would be one cosmic moment in which I finally get it, you know?

Sowing a million seeds, reaping one potato

And that’s what space travel is all about. It’s all about peace and exploration and wonder and beauty.

So says SF author-emeritus Ray Bradbury, in this interview with, of all sources, FOX News.

(courtesy Bookslut)

Thursday, February 12, 2004

IMAGE OF THE WEEK





Haystack Rock, Cannon Beach, Oregon.

This is one of the iconic memories of my childhood -- before we moved to Western New York when I was ten, we lived in a number of places, including Portland, Oregon; occasionally we would drive the sixty miles or so from Portland to Cannon Beach, the nearest bit of Pacific Ocean shoreline to where we lived. Cannon Beach is dominated by the 235-foot tall megalith Haystack Rock, which sits just beyond the water's edge. It's been well over twenty years since I last saw Haystack Rock, but I vividly remember the hundreds, of not thousands, of seagulls and birds coming and going from their nests on the rock.

I want a cult following!

Even if you completely despise the very idea of American Idol, you might find this funny. It's William Hung, this year's most notorious bad audition.

"She bangs! She bangs!"

You might be a Buffalo Grocery Shopper if....

Here's a hypothetical. You go to the grocery store, and when you go to buy the brand of margarine that you prefer, you discover that there isn't any on the shelves. Thus, you decide to ask one of the helpful people working in the dairy department if there is any more out back. But there are two employees nearby! Which do you ask?

A. The guy in the white jacket who is actually putting milk on the shelves.

B. The guy in the generic black shirt who is standing off to one side, using a power screwdriver to mount a new paper towel dispenser to the wall.

If your answer is "B", you just might be a Buffalo Grocery Shopper!

(I very kindly directed her to the other employee, and she was pleased-as-punch. The great secret of customer service is that very often, it doesn't take all that much.)

Can they play him on a kazoo?

Lynn Sislo links a guy named Erik who says this:

I still think that those who publicly play Bach and Scarlatti on a piano should be branded and flogged.

Well, ummmmm....why? Yeah, I know, from a musicological perspective, the harpsichord is the appropriate instrument. But for one thing, pianos are a lot easier to come by these days; and more importantly, if pianists can't play Bach, what about brass quintets? or symphony orchestras, in the case of those transcriptions Leopold Stokowski did?

Similarly, should Liszt's piano transcriptions of orchestral repertoire be disavowed? Should concert bands and wind ensembles no longer be permitted to perform band transcriptions of classic orchestral works?

Music is a fluid art. It doesn't do well when placed under rigid constraints.

EDIT: Link fixed, and thus rendered non-useless.

Did he recently swallow a canary or something?

I've noticed the last few weeks that the news media seem to be running more pictures of President Bush in which he is smirking. No, I don't have any conclusive evidence of this, nor do I even wonder if its liberal bias returning or conservative bias abating or what. Just something I've noticed.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

How many times can they back away from the brink?

I'm still enjoying The West Wing a lot, although I'm noticing a trend this year to have big crises develop that get resolved, well, within the hour. I was starting to think, over the last couple of seasons, that Aaron Sorkin's vaunted dialogue was starting to get repetitive (watch enough Sorkin scripts in performance and you'll see tons of reused memes, like the words "thing" and "Yeah"), but I do miss the fact that Sorkin knew that you don't always have to resolve things. Closure isn't everything.

The Sensations of Great Disturbances, in progress....

First of all, I must note that 2004 is shaping up very nicely. I already have a new job that I'm enjoying muchly, and there was the advance copy of Guy Gavriel Kay's new novel. Now I learn that pretty much the ultimate gift will be available in time for my birthday, five days after the release date. Wow-za! Oh, man....dare I hope that this is all leading up to a really nice bonus on the first Tuesday of November?

But anyway, I noted yesterday that John Scalzi dissed George Lucas, and I successfully avoided foaming at the mouth (although there were a couple of drops of spittle that were quickly wiped up). A grim sensation began to take hold, though -- as if one blogger's voice screamed out in terror, and then was suddenly silenced. Yup, the unspeakable has happened: the AICN Jedi Council has re-convened.

Hoo-boy....here we go....I shall now fasten by steel-like grip on the corners of my computer table. Running commentary is below: I'm reading this thing and commenting on it as I do so. Just because, well, I can. Imagine me as a disembodied Jedi in their room, floating behind them and whispering, "You bunch of friggin' wankers!"

(I'll try to find links to my previous AICN Council rantings a bit later on.)

...OK, apparently playwright Tom Stoppard has done some script work on Episode III. I loved Shakespeare in Love, so I can deal with this. And look: more bitching about midichlorians! And whining about the giant, gaping plot hole in Attack of the Clones: the identity of Master Sifodyas! (And here's me, thinking, "Who gives a shit about Sifodyas?")

...And here's some guy holding forth that Lucas sold out with Attack of the Clones and "gave the fans what they wanted". I'm sure the fans were screaming for the Anakin/Padme love story. I'm sure that the fans wanted that love story intercut with a complicated mystery and Republic politics. Aside from less Jar Jar, I don't know what "fanboy grievances" this guy thinks Lucas indulged -- unless it was simply all the battle stuff, which pretty much had to be there, right? I mean, given that the story requires it? Ummmm....sure. Moving on.

...They babble about the DVDs for a bit. Nothing about Greedo shooting first yet, but I'm sure it's coming....and they really want some rumored scene from The Empire Strikes Back in which Vader plucks C-3PO's mechanical heart from his chest. I don't know, that sounds pretty stupid, doesn't it?

...Moriarty says this: "Toy manufacturers have a real problem with manufacturing toys for PG-13 and R rated films." They do? Did I hallucinate all those Lord of the Rings toys?

...Apparently Natalie Portman is a snot on the set. (According to these folks, presumably none of whom have ever been on the set with her -- but then, AICN is pretty much the Internet home for "I have a friend who knows somebody who picks up drycleaning for this producer guy, and he says that Paris Hilton is in talks to play Queen Elizabeth the Second in the new World War II movie.")

...And there it is! Greedo shoots first!

...Followed immediately by "Release the original trilogy!"

...Predictions of box office grosses abound. Gnashing over why The Phantom Menace outperformed Attack of the Clones, and I think back to an interview George Lucas gave back before TPM even came out, in which he said that he expected Episode III to gross the least of all the films. Hmmmm.

All in all, not as obnoxious as previous outings, but you can still see where most of these people are operating under the premise that George Lucas is a bumbling hack who basically stumbled into making good movies by the sheer luck that he had a couple of talented people with him. Experienced readers know that I disagree with this, vehemently...but we'll let that dog sleep.